Dispatches from E.D. Sedgwick’s winter tour through Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland.
We wake in a small room in Potsdam above the club we played the night before. Like many rooms in Charles Dickens novels, the room is heated by a coal stove. Bricks of coal lie in a bucket by the stove. Singer L. and I have spent an hour the previous night loading the stove with coal and figuring out how to light it. Once a basic part of civilization, the art of firing a coal stove is strange to us, two people with dual degrees from a private liberal arts college in New England. Yet, our efforts pay off—-the room is slightly warmer than freezing.
I drink tea and contemplate the possibility that my voice may be totally useless. Talking above a whisper brings pain. Hitting specific pitches is more of a problem than usual. For years, the plight of rock singers prone to laryngitis who insist on warming up has seemed ridiculous to me. It seems ridiculous now. For years, I have joked about the emo Neanderthal man who treats his voice like a newborn baby’s bottom, pampering his vocal chords with all variety of rinses, salt water, tonics, lozenges, hot wraps, cold wraps, and Chloraseptic.
I have sown disdain, and now reap bitterness.
We drive eight hours from Potsdam to Aachen, a town in West Germany on the Belgian border. The venue is “Autonomen Zentrums,” or “Autonomous Center,” a club built beneath the earth in a Cold War bunker. This sounds fantastical—-the plot of post-World War II Soviet novel or a Terry Gilliam film—-but, in fact, this is not the first military structure-turned-club I have played. In fact, we are playing another one in about a week. In good and bad ways, the place looks like the set of 12 Monkeys. They all do. Dinner, prepared by our hosts, is delicious, featuring soy cutlets and vegan cupcakes.
Was that a rat?
We play for a mostly uninterested crowd of Germans. My voice sounds like shit. We make 250 euros and sell about 50 euros of merch. Our driver proposes that we take [redacted] euros, and she keep [redacted] euros. This seems unfair to me. I propose that we take [redacted] euros, and she take [redacted] euros. She instantly agrees. I then fall prey, as I have many times before, to my signature personality quirk: arguing with someone who has just agreed with me, trying to persuade her to take more.